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Highlights

Continued high levels of unauthorized immigrant workers in the United States have fostered concerns about whether they should be eligible for Social Security benefits. Until recently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) allowed noncitizens to collect benefits, regardless of their work authorization status, provided that they met certain legal presence requirements. However, in March 2004, Congress passed the Social Security Protection Act, which under Section 211, requires that noncitizens assigned a Social Security number (SSN) after 2003 have work authorization from current or past qualifying work to collect benefits. This report describes (1) the steps SSA has taken to implement Section 211 and how effective SSA's policies and procedures are in preventing improper benefit decisions, and (2) how Section 211 has affected the payment of benefits to unauthorized workers.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Social Security Administration 1. To assure proper benefit eligibility determinations and appeals processes, the Commissioner of Social Security should establish a control to identify potentially erroneous claims decisions for unauthorized workers assigned SSNs after 2003, such as an electronic edit check to identify such claims.
Closed - Implemented
In July 2007, SSA stated that it had implemented a new edit check into the Disability Insured Status Calculator Online (DISCO) program, an automated screening tool used by Claims Representatives, Service Representatives and Teleservice Representatives to screen for whether an individual meets the disability insured status. SSA also stated that an alert is now generated when the Social Security number (SSN) issue date is January 1, 2004, or later, on the first iteration of the NUMIDENT record for the original SSN. In addition, SSA stated that the alert also generates a copy of claims processing procedures relating to Section 211 of the Social Security Protection Act (SSPA) for the adjudicator to review and apply when processing the claims. The controls that SSA has put in place may help to identify disability claims that do not qualify under SSPA.
Social Security Administration 2. To assure proper benefit eligibility determinations and appeals processes, the Commissioner of Social Security should provide enhanced training to staff to assist them in properly processing claims covered by Section 211.
Closed - Not Implemented
In March 2007, SSA stated that the agency drafted a regulation and was updating the claims processing procedures relating to Section 211 of the SSPA. Once these procedures are completed, SSA stated that it would include information on processing benefit claims under Section 211 in monthly interactive video training provided to SSA field offices. SSA stated that it expected to have these updates completed in fiscal year 2007. In its August 2009 update, SSA stated that the Office of Regulations sent the regulation to the Commissioner for review to determine the release date, and expected to have the regulation published and the updates to the processing procedures for Section 211 of the SSPA completed in 2009. As of May 2010, the Commissioner had placed this regulation on an indefinite hold and the agency has no anticipated release date.
Social Security Administration 3. To assure proper benefit eligibility determinations and appeals processes, the Commissioner of Social Security should develop a standardized format for disapproval letters to ensure that staff provide applicants with all required information regarding the disapproval decision.
Closed - Implemented
According to SSA, on September 27, 2006, the agency updated its procedures relating to Section 211 of the SSPA and instructed staff to use a standardized disallowance notice found in the Distributed Online Correspondence System. The standardized notice includes an optional paragraph that provides standardized language describing the reason for the denial and standardized appeals language.

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